At the 2016 Conservative party conference in Birmingham, transport secretary Chris Grayling claimed that “We need better (rail) services to places like Milton Keynes, Northampton and Coventry”, and
“get more freight off the roads and onto rail”.
[Chris Grayling, speech as written]
So how do we do that?
Easy. We create more space on our railways.
And how do we do that?
We build a new railway that links our major cities – so we’ve got more space for freight trains and commuter trains on our other busiest lines.
That Ladies and Gentlemen is why we need to press ahead with HS2.
Everyone will benefit from this new project.
A commuter who never uses the new fast service will benefit from the extra space it will free up on their lines.
The motorist who never uses a train, will have a quicker journey as we get more freight off the roads.
And if we need to build a new railway, why on earth wouldn’t we build a new, state of the art one for the coming century.
As can be seen from the video of the speech, these remarks didn’t seem to find much favour with the audience.
In essence, the ‘commuter benefits’ of HS2 would be almost entirely restricted to a small number of travellers from Northampton and Milton Keynes. Most Euston commuters do not use the fast lines, which HS2 is ‘supposed’ to relieve. And how cutting its fast trains to London by a third is a ‘benefit’ for Coventry, has yet to be explained.
The speed and acceleration characteristics of freight trains are very different to passenger ones, so if mixed traffic operation continued on the West Coast Main Line, the potential for more goods movement would be small. There seems to be no prospect of removing all passenger trains from the fast or the relief lines. Furthermore, much of the West Coast freight traffic involves using tracks shared with the Overground in London, which are busy all day.
A 250 mph railway with just eight stations is completely unsuitable for Britain’s economic geography, in which large cities are spaced a hundred miles or less apart.